Rob Shaw: A fascinating debate in the legislature illustrates the difficulty of government trying to create and impose regulations where none existed before – in this case, trampoline parks.
What is an “amusement device” and how can the BC government make sure it doesn’t seriously hurt or even kill people?
That was the focus of a fascinating little debate in the legislature this week, as the province attempts to set safety standards for trampoline parks.
The government was urged to intervene in the sector in 2019 in a coroner’s report that examined the death of a man who died after doing a front-flip into a foam pit at Extreme Air Park in Richmond and landed head first, damaging his spinal cord.
The coroner found none of the staff at the park were trained in first aid, nor did they even know how to respond to an emergency or injury other than to dial 911 and let someone else handle it.
The company’s response was to point back to the lengthy waiver that customers sign (and almost nobody ever really reads or understands) that it said absolved it of any negligence or wrongdoing for the use of its trampoline equipment.
There’s virtually no disagreement from MLAs in the legislature that the growing and popular trampoline park industry, with 10 locations in BC, should be regulated.
But the debate in the legislature highlighted how quirky it can be for government to try and put its thumb on a particular activity.
First, Attorney General David Eby said BC had to create a new category of things called “amusement devices.” These are different than “amusement rides” like rollercoasters, Ferris wheels and other traditional amusement park rides that are already regulated in BC and are considered “mechanized” in some way.
Here’s the new working definition of an amusement device: “An ‘arrangement of technical systems that individuals move through or on primarily by their own action or gravity and are not mechanized,’” said Eby.
That sounds pretty vague. And indeed, the legislature is intending it to be. Because what the trampoline park bill actually does is opens up the door to a variety of new and emerging recreational sectors the government wants to oversee.
That includes BC’s three “bungee trampoline” businesses, 13 “portable climbing walls,” two “QUICKjumps” attractions (where people jump off a large tower and freefall while attached to a rope), any future “indoor skydiving” businesses, and two “stunt airbag” attractions already in operation.
All of those will now be checked for safety, along with trampoline parks.
One surprising inclusion is BC’s seven Go-Kart tracks – which, yes, are “mechanized” and could probably be considered an existing “amusement ride” but for whatever reason have been overlooked.
“These go-kart courses are regulated in Ontario, and I think that the member is surprised — it matches my own — that we weren’t regulating this sector to make sure that it was safe,” Eby said after being questioned by Opposition BC Liberal critic Mike de Jong. “And so this amendment is proposed to capture that gap.”
Not included? Adventure rope courses, where people teeter in the treetops while climbing and running their way through extreme obstacles.
BC considered adding them too, but then Technical Safety BC did a technical analysis of the risk and injury type, and concluded they were already pretty safely run by operators.
Nonetheless, the new bill opens the door wide open for cabinet to at any point in the future take the vague “amusement device” definition and tack on any manner of new and emerging business.
It could even get a bit ridiculous, with people attempting to label an “amusement device” as – well, really anything that amuses anyone.
“‘Amusement device’ could be seen, I understand, to be very broad,” admitted Eby.
“I mean, there are so many things that are potentially amusing. Amusement devices could be really anything. It could be a TV . It could be a baseball glove. But it’s not. It’s a term of art, I understand from industry, that’s understood by industry.”
If the BC government does decide to regulate another amusement-related activity in the future, it will first have Technical Safety BC conduct an assessment of the risk and injury types.
“The overall philosophy of Technical Safety BC around these things is to only regulate in areas where there’ll be a meaningful safety benefit and not to interfere with the overall experience of people when they’re going through, currently, mechanized rides and soon, hopefully, if the House sees fit to approve this, non-mechanized experiences as well,” said Eby.
It might seem kind of silly to have such a detailed debate in the legislature on things like trampoline park definitions and what constitutes an amusement device.
But one of the main purposes of debating new legislation is to set a record of what the government intended, which is later used by the courts if anyone challenges the law or gets involved in a particularly complicated lawsuit following another injury or death.
Judges refer back to the legislative debate to see what government was trying to do, also known as the spirit of its intent, and then consider that in ruling on how the law applies to the real world.
That’s why, at one point, BC’s attorney general spent time discussing the difference between a bouncy surface and a foam pit, of all things.
“Some of the intent here is that when you’re talking about a trampoline versus a foam pit versus some of these…. It’s a rapidly evolving area, so just making sure that we’re capturing the intent here of the specific types of parks where these injuries took place, but also that they may choose to modify their devices to avoid oversight,” said Eby.
The new amusement park legislation is expected to pass unanimously.
Rob Shaw has spent more than 13 years covering BC politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for The Orca. He is the co-author of the national best-selling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.
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